I’ve been using Windows 7 since its beta days and helping clients work with it since the operating system was released to manufacturing. Overall, Windows 7 is impressive. But, as good as it is, especially compared to Windows Vista, it’s not perfect. Here, I share with you some of its common problems with the new Windows in its first months of life and, if not their solutions, at least some workarounds.
1. Installing and Running Old Software
While many older Windows programs run just fine on Windows 7, everyone seems to have at least one older program that doesn’t have a fully Windows-7-compatible version. You can get many, but not all, of these programs to install and work on Windows 7 if you use Windows 7′s Compatibility Mode.
Some older programs (such as system diagnostics, hard-disk managers, and security software) shouldn’t be run on Windows 7 at all. The odds are that these kinds of programs will give you more trouble than they could possibly be worth.
To install an older program, find the software’s installation program icon, and right click on it. Then select the Properties/Compatibility Tab. Once there, select the newest version of Windows on which you know the program will run.
In some cases, you need to choose the option to run the installation as administrator. In even fewer cases, if you have trouble with badly-sized fonts, you’ll want to disable display scaling.
That might not fix everything. Once installed, you may still have problems running the program. In that case, right-click on the program’s icon and (once more) click your way to Properties/Compatibility. This time you are presented with a variety of choices designed to help your program work with Windows 7.
Most of your choices here are designed to get the program’s graphics to work and play well with Windows 7′s Aero interface. Perhaps the most important option is to let the program run in administrator mode. Many older Windows programs assume that all users have administration privileges. You can set these changes for all users by selecting the “Change settings for all users” button. This is lousy security, but if you need the program, you need the program.
If your program still won’t work, there’s always Windows 7′s XP Mode. This program, which is only available in Windows 7 Enterprise, Professional, and Ultimate, lets you run an instance of Windows XP in a Virtual PC virtual machine.
2. Where, Oh Where is my Optical Drive?
For some reason, Windows 7 has trouble finding some CD/DVD drives even if they’re built-in into the PC and you have the right drivers. The easy way to try to fix this is to insert a disc, click Start, type Disk Management and pick the “Create and format hard disk partitions” option. Is it there? Then, right-click the drive and select Change Drive Letter and Paths. Now, click Change, and give the drive a new letter. If you can now see the drive in Explorer, use the same procedure to change the drive letter back. Did it disappear in Explorer? Try rebooting. With any luck at all, you should now be able to find the drive in Explorer.
If that didn’t work, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Find the registry editor, by clicking Start and searching for
regedit. Then, run
regedit, browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Class\, and look for the first key that ends in 18. This holds the internal optical drive settings. Once here, delete both
LowerFilters if they appear in the right-hand pane. (If you see
LowerFilters.bak entries, you don’t need to bother with them.) Now, reboot; you should be able to get to your CD/DVD drives from Explorer.
3. Aero Annoyances
Most users like Windows 7′s Aero interface, now that’s it’s tuned up and decluttered from its earlier Windows Vista incarnation. But some people still have trouble with it.
Probably the most effective thing you can do to improve Aero’s look and performance is to move to the latest drivers for your graphics hardware. The usual way to accomplish this is to go to your graphics hardware vendor’s website and to see if they recently updated their drivers.
Another way is to use a program, like Drivers HeadQuarters’ Driver Detective, to scan a PC for outdated drivers. After scanning the PC, this useful shareware program can automatically download and install the latest drivers. One of its handier features is that, rather than just downloading generic drivers, Driver Detective can download specific drivers for the combination of a PC from a particular vendor (such as Dell) and its components.
Aero’s own built-in trouble shooting program is nothing to sneeze at. Just click Start, type
Aero, pick “Find and fix problems with transparency and other visual effects” and launch the troubleshooting wizard. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well it does at tuning up Aero.
On the other hand, I, and a lot of other people, find Aero Snap to be more trouble than it’s worth. The Windows feature lets you resize open windows by dragging them to the edges of your screen. If you’re among those who constantly find yourself losing screens by accidentally Snapping them to a screen edge, you’ll be glad to know you can stop this behavior.
All you need do is launch the Control Panel, click “Ease of Access,” and pick “Change how your mouse works.” Go to the “Make it easier to manage windows” section, and check “Prevent windows from being automatically arranged when moved to the edge of the screen.” Then click OK, and that will be the end of the Snap stupidity.
4. Back to a Windows XP Look-and-Feel
There are some “improvements” in Aero’s look that many users don’t care for. For example, many users prefer the old Windows XP style taskbar and don’t like that system folders, such as Control Panel and the Recycle Bin, were banished from the Computer/Explorer pane. Fortunately, you can bring them back.
To get a more familiar looking desktop taskbar, right-click the taskbar, select Properties, and set Taskbar Buttons to “Combine when taskbar is full” or “Never combine.” Ta da! The toolbar suddenly looks a lot more like the one you’ve been using for years.
I have never been a fan of the Quick Launch toolbar, but you can bring it back from the dead as well. Do so by right-clicking on Windows 7′s default taskbar, and then clicking Toolbars > New Toolbar. Once there, paste
%userprofile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch in the folder box and Select Folder. It should now appear as an option on the main toolbar.
To return the system folders to their rightful place, head over to the Control Panel and open Folder Options. Once there, check “Show all folders” and click OK. That’s it. The next time you open your Computer from the Start menu you’ll find the Control Panel and Recycle Bin icons back in their rightful spot at the bottom of the left-hand Computer pane.
5. The Undead Battery
Have you been running a Windows 7 laptop when, out of the blue, you get an error message saying that you should “Consider replacing your battery” or “There is a problem with your battery, so your computer might shut down suddenly”? You may even have your laptop automatically shut down because of a low battery when you know darn well the battery is fine. Join the crowd.
Windows 7 seems to have a persistent problem with many older laptops and their batteries. It’s usually not that Windows 7 is draining your battery at a record clip; rather, Windows 7 has real trouble correctly reading your battery’s life from your laptop’s BIOS. The problem seems to stem from a failure to communicate between Windows 7′s Composite Battery Driver, which tracks the status of system batteries and many laptop’s battery API. In short, it’s a problem well beyond anything a system administrator can fix.
This problem has shown up in laptops from numerous vendors, and with little rhyme or reason on which laptops or models experience the problem. Microsoft is working on the problem, but no fix has been issued to date. In the meantime, system vendors are also working on improving how their power systems work with Windows 7.
To see if your battery problems are likely to come from this conflict between Windows 7 and your hardware run the
powercfg -energy command from a command prompt. If the result is that Windows was unable to determine the battery’s capacity, sooner or later you will see the misleading error messages or have the laptop shutdown prematurely.
For now, the best solution seems to be a workaround. First, get to an administrative command prompt. Do this by either opening a
cmd character-based session and pressing
ctrl+shift+enter or from Start go to All Programs -> Accessories, right click on Command Prompt and select “Run as Administrator.”
Once there, run the following command:
powercfg -setdcvalueindex SCHEME_CURRENT SUB_BATTERY BATACTIONCRIT 0. This changes the current power scheme so that even when Windows 7 thinks the battery is almost out of power, it won’t shut down the PC. Of course, if your battery really is close to running out of juice, you may find yourself trying to type on a suddenly dead laptop. Whoops!
Also remember that Windows 7 has a poor reputation, compared to Windows XP, when it comes to battery life. With a new laptop that has Windows 7 pre-installed, you’re less likely to run into either the battery problems or see lower than usual battery life.
In short, as has been said before, if you’re moving from Windows XP to Windows 7, probably you’re better off buying a new PC than upgrading an older system. These battery life concerns underline this point.